In March 1994, media mogul Silvio Berlusconi became the Prime Minister of Italy. Against all odds, he could retain his ownership of several TV channels and other media. Berlusconi’s quasi-monopoly not only raises questions about pluralism in media and communication, it is also seen as alarming that he could possibly use his political power to influence the media output. By using the media he could namely make an application of the theory of hegemony which his compatriot Gramsci formulated about 65 years before Berlusconi’s election. The aim of this essay is to clarify Gramsci’s concept of hegemony and to explain how a dominant group or a leader in society could use among others the media to obtain and retain a hegemonic position in society. Later, this concept will be linked to Berlusconi’s media ownership and how he could possibly use his powerful position in order to enforce hegemony in contemporary Italy.
In March 1994, Silvio Berlusconi, charismatic figure, leader and creator of Forza Italia, became the Prime Minister of Italy. Remarkably, he could retain his quasi-monopoly holding of national television and media resources (Statham, 1996, p. 87). This fact raises a lot of questions about the combination of political power and the media. It is mostly seen as a threat for democracy that the political leader of a country owns the biggest private television companies as well (Mancini, 2008, p. 107). The topic of Berlusconi and his striking relationship with the national media has already been discussed in several scientific papers (for example, Ginsborg, 2004; Mancini, 2008; Statham, 1996, Van Zoonen, 2004). The aim of this essay however, is to link Silvio Berlusconi´s media ownership, to the concept of hegemony as described by Antonio Gramsci. Antonio Gramsci had in fact a specific view on how a dominant group in society (for example a political party) should maintain its power without repression or other coercive measures. According to Gramsci, there should be a ‘spontaneous consensus’ between the dominant, leading group in society and the other citizens. One can only enforce a status quo through ‘consensual control’ or hegemony, through church, school system… till media and culture, or ‘civil society’ as Gramsci names it (Biltereyst, 2009, p.30). This essay will focus on how media can play a role in the achievement of this ‘spontaneous consensus’ and hegemony. At first, the concept of hegemony as defined by Antonio Gramsci will be discussed. Later, this concept will be linked to the potential use of media in achieving this hegemony and how Silvio Berlusconi could possibly use his media ownership to achieve a ‘spontaneous consensus’ and consequently hegemony in contemporary Italy.
Hegemony according to Antonio Gramsci
Antonio Gramsci was an important political figure and, as a member and leader of the Communist Party of Italy, a victim of Mussolini’s regime in Fascist Italy. Gramsci himself has known a childhood in poverty and as a member of the working class, he soon withdrew the fate of his co-workers in the social struggle when he grew older. In 1911, he founded the Communist Party in Italy and later went off to Russia to have contact with, among others, Lenin. In 1924 he returned to Italy and became a member of the Italian Parliament where he emerged as a national figure and a rhetorically skilled opponent of Mussolini's Fascism. In 1926 he got imprisoned by Mussolini’s regime and during his eleven-year-period of imprisonment, he wrote his “Prison Notebooks”, for which he is still known and which, after they reached the outside world, strongly influenced the mindset of cultural studies (Biltereyst, 2009, p. 29). Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks contain more than 3000 pages of analysis and history. During his imprisonment, he analyzed the traces of Italian history and...